Trans Europa Xpress
The days of Empire are long gone…
Because the UK won WW2 (with the Soviets and the Americans and the forces fighting from across The Empire) and then had to pay for it with the last great bout of austerity, we actually managed to avoid re-negotiating our position as world leading nation. We have never fully faced up to our post-Empire identity. Rather we luxuriate in a mid-Atlantic special-relationship fantasy in which we persuade ourselves that we are only Europeanish, and are still linked to that well known former colony across The Pond who happen to speak a version of our language. Speaking of links to former colonies, we pull that number when it suits the market narrative, only now we don’t even call them Commonwealth, but actually India and China. Perhaps its just as well, given that “common wealth” might now get people asking questions…
Yes we are on the permanent team of the UN Security Council. Yes, our economy is calculated by some to be the 5th/6th largest.
But not only is the map of the world no longer largely pink; its barely recognizable as a meaningful map of the world.
The crisis illuminated by the forthcoming EU referendum is not just a crisis of the European continent and its attempts to ward off political disunity by applying a false economic sticking plaster. The crisis is actually also about the nation state, and its legitimacy as a functioning social unit. The reason why the democratic deficit argument made about the EU is so hard to swallow is because there is a different kind of democratic deficit at work domestically.
Firstly this government, though democratically elected, is not only selling off state assets as fast as it can, but deliberately undertaking a process of de-stabilisation in order to condemn state run institutions as dysfunctional, then sell them off cheap to their mates. This is of course couched in the language of enterprise and unfettered free trade. But this is democratic deficit every bit as real as Brussels bureaucracy or the elite cabal of unelected decision makers which Varoufakis has forensically dissected following the Greek euro debacle.
Secondly the very premise of the nation state is now so compromised by the presence of multi-nationals and their ability to exist beyond the reach of not only national taxation but also national law, as to render their continued legitimacy – at least according to centuries old narratives – unworkable.
It’s all about choice
We can see, for example from the Academisation of schools, that what is presented to us UK citizens as all about choice, is actually the opposite. Like with the banks, failure is rewarded as it maintains the elite’s uncontested right to self preservation and control, with the argument that these rewards are necessary so all those wealth-generating rich corporations will stay here and continue to generate wealth. This in turn is based on the misconception that trickle down actually happens, let alone whether it works. We can now see more clearly from under the brim of that Panama hat, that trickle down in fact means trickle off shore.
So it is with this referendum. We, the UK citizens, are being given a choice. No possible democratic deficit here. Why do the arguments for either side seem so insubstantial? Why are so many people finding it hard to arrive at a clear position? Just because the Tories and Labour are divided? No, its because the same systemic issues remain regardless of which choice is made.
Who are we?
Norway and Switzerland are two small, comparatively wealthy countries. The former through oil and the latter… well, if only it were as simple as Orson Welles’ analysis in The Third Man. But do we really aspire to either of these? Munira Mirza’s argument that we shouldn’t discriminate in favour of Europeans at the expense of non-Europeans is completely right. But in practice what I mean by that is that we should treat non-Europeans as well as Europeans. This government’s track record – for example how it treats prospective students – is to persuade generations of smart young people to see their education lying elsewhere. This government is intent on treating non-Europeans as badly as Europeans. The myth of choice according to merit is ridiculous when scrutinized in practice. The rich; the oligarchs; those buying up London – those who can afford it…they will be allowed to come from anywhere. We have been showing the way for decades with our treatment of Saudis. This is not throwing off the shackles of a fettering EU, it is freedom of movement for the wealthy.
On-shore Banking Business
When Vladimir Putin first came on the scene it was easy for us in the UK to condemn the blatantly kleptocratic practices of him and his cronies. Then Italy gave us Berlusconi who kept re-appearing, vampire-like, only when the state had found a little bit more wealth for him to plunder. Serially exempt from prosecution – at liberty to fuck what he wanted. Next we had Sarkozy in France with his glamourous wife to distract the natives; though I’m told the system under Hollande is no better. Have you noticed how inexorably we in Western Europe are becoming more and more Russian?
What can the UK bring to the party? Well, with all those former island micro-colonies operating so successfully with regards off-shore banking business, what better way to stay ahead of the pack? Forget little Norway and Switzerland. This is what we will look like under Johnson/Gove. London as hybrid between multinational on-shore tax haven and law-unto-itself city state; beyond European – internationally wealthy. Everything you might want from a little known Caribbean island except the weather, but you can get a salt beef sandwich whenever you want one. And for those who like their beef more Herefordshire rare – the shires in which to retire to one’s castle.
Little England through a C21st prism.
Brand or Brandt?
Let me turn again to why else European economic and political engagement might matter. Many, if not all of us occupy multiple identities. Personally I get most frightened by fascism when it wears a nationalist mask. I pay attention to places like Hungary and Ukraine partly because it is where my ancestors came from, not that long ago. The EU was created by Benelux countries who didn’t want France and Germany at war again having had their lands used as slaughterhouses twice in 30 years. Franco-German hegemony has been visited upon Greece in a nasty and very undemocratic way. Italy is as much Greek as it is Franco-German. Only The UK has the political and economic chops to contest this hegemony.
We need a balanced Western Europe for there to be any hope of a balanced Eastern Europe. I don’t want this played out just through NATO which is about the West waking up 25 years too late to the fact that Gorbachev was the beginning rather than the end. A balanced Europe is necessary not because of The Enlightenment and all that mythic stuff about why intellectual Europe is a good thing, tempting though some of that is to me. No, its another German I want to invoke, Willy Brandt – who understood Europe’s potential place in the world, who reconfigured East-West into North-South and why we need a different map of the world to counter the kleptocracy which has taken root since Gorbachev.